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Tuesday, August 10, 2021

76 Years Ago: Truman Began the Story of Hiroshima With a Lie



Another post related to  my new book "The Beginning or the End"
 *
On Aug. 6, 1945, President Harry S. Truman faced the task of telling the press, and the world, that America’s crusade against fascism had culminated in exploding a revolutionary new weapon of extraordinary destructive power over a Japanese city.

It was vital that this event be understood as a reflection of dominant military power and at the same time consistent with American decency and concern for human life. Everyone involved in preparing the presidential statement sensed that the stakes were high, for this marked the unveiling of both the atomic bomb and the official narrative of Hiroshima.

When the astonishing news emerged that morning, exactly 74 years ago, it took the form of a routine press release, a little more than a thousand words long. President Truman was at sea a thousand miles away, returning from the Potsdam conference. The Soviet Union was hours from declaring war on Japan (“fini Japs” when that occurred, Truman had written days before in his diary).

Shortly before eleven o’clock, an information officer from the War Department arrived at the White House bearing bundles of press releases. A few minutes later, assistant press secretary Eben Ayers began reading the president’s announcement to about a dozen members of the Washington press corps.

The atmosphere was so casual, and the statement so momentous, that the reporters had difficulty grasping it. “The thing didn’t penetrate with most of them,” Ayers later remarked. Finally, they rushed to call their editors, and at least one reporter found a disbeliever at the other end of the line. The first few sentences of the statement set the tone:

“Sixteen hours ago an American airplane dropped one bomb on Hiroshima, an important Japanese Army base. That bomb had more power than 20,000 tons of TNT. ...The Japanese began the war from the air at Pearl Harbor. They have been repaid many fold. ...It is an atomic bomb. It is a harnessing of the basic power of the universe.”

Although details were modified at the last moment, Truman’s four-page statement had been crafted with considerable care over many months. From its very first words, however, the official narrative was built on a lie. Hiroshima was not an “army base” but a city of 350,000. It did contain one important military base, but the bomb had been aimed at the very center of a city (and far from its industrial area). This was a continuation of the American policy of bombing civilian populations in Japan to undermine the morale of the enemy. It was also to take advantage of what those who picked the target called the special “focusing effect” provided by the hills which surrounded the city on three sides. This would allow the blast to bounce back on the city, destroying more of it, and its citizens.

Perhaps 10,000 military personnel lost their lives in the bomb but the vast majority of the dead in Hiroshima would be women and children. Also: at least a dozen American POWs. When Nagasaki was A-bombed three days later it was officially described as a “naval base.”
There was something else missing in Truman’s announcement: Because the president in his statement failed to mention radiation effects, which officials knew were horrendous, the imagery of just a bigger bomb would prevail in the press. Truman described the new weapon as “revolutionary” but only in regard to the destruction it could cause, failing to mention its most lethal new feature: radiation.

Many Americans first heard the news from the radio, which broadcast the text of Truman’s statement shortly after its release. The afternoon papers quickly arrived with banner headlines: “Atom Bomb, World’s Greatest, Hits Japs!” and “Japan City Blasted by Atomic Bomb.” The Pentagon had released no pictures, so most of the newspapers relied on maps of Japan with Hiroshima circled.

It wasn’t until the following morning, Aug. 7, that the government’s press offensive appeared, with the first detailed account of the making of the atomic bomb, and the Hiroshima mission. Nearly every U.S. newspaper carried all or parts of 14 separate press releases distributed by the Pentagon several hours after the president’s announcement.

The Truman announcement of the atomic bombing on Aug. 6, 1945, and the flood of material from the War Department, firmly established the nuclear narrative.

One of the few early stories that did not come directly from the military was a wire service report filed by a journalist traveling with the president on the Atlantic, returning from Europe. Approved by military censors, it went beyond, but not far beyond, the measured tone of the president’s official statement. It depicted Truman, his voice “tense with excitement,” personally informing his shipmates about the atomic attack. “The experiment,” he announced, “has been an overwhelming success.”

The sailors were said to be “uproarious” over the news. “I guess I’ll get home sooner now,” was a typical response. (Whether the declaration of war by the Soviets might have produced surrender in a few days or weeks remains an open question.) Nowhere in the story, however, was there a strong sense of Truman’s reaction. Missing from this account was his exultant remark when the news of the bombing first reached the ship: “This is the greatest thing in history!”




Monday, August 9, 2021

When First U.S. Reporter Reached Nagasaki--and His Reports Suppressed


More on suppression of evidence from Hiroshima and Nagasaki in my books The Beginning or the End:  How Hollywood--and America--Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb and Atomic Cover-up  and Hiroshima in America, and in my new award-winning film.


Nagasaki, which lost over 80,000 civilians (and only a few military personnel) to a new weapon 76 years ago, has always been The Forgotten A-Bomb City. And Nagasaki was "forgotten" from the very start, thanks to a blatant act of press censorship.

One of the great mysteries of the Nuclear Age was solved just a decade ago: What was in the censored, and then lost to the ages, newspaper articles filed by the first reporter to reach Nagasaki following the atomic attack on that city on Aug. 9, 1945.

The reporter was George Weller, the distinguished correspondent for the now-defunct Chicago Daily News. His startling dispatches from Nagasaki, which could have affected public opinion on the future of the bomb, never emerged from General Douglas MacArthur's censorship office in Tokyo. I wrote about this cover-up in the book Atomic Cover-up, along the suppression for decades of film footage shot in the two atomic cities by the U.S. military.


Carbon copies of the stories were found in 2003 when his son discovered them after the reporter's death. Four of them were published in 2005 for the first time by the Tokyo daily Mainichi Shimbun, which purchased them from the son, Anthony Weller. I was first to report on this in the United States.

The articles published in Japan (and later included in a book assembled by Anthony Weller, First Into Nagasaki) revealed a remarkable and wrenching turn in Weller's view of the aftermath of the bombing, which anticipates the profound unease in our nuclear experience ever since. "It was remarkable to see that shifting perspective," Anthony Weller told me.

An early article that George Weller filed, on Sept. 8, 1945 -- two days after he reached the city, before any other journalist -- hailed the "effectiveness of the bomb as a military device," as his son describes it, and made no mention of the bomb's special, radiation-producing properties.

But later that day, after visiting two hospitals and shaken by what he saw, he described a mysterious "Disease X" that was killing people who had seemed to survive the bombing in relatively good shape. A month after the atomic inferno, they were passing away pitifully, some with legs and arms "speckled with tiny red spots in patches."

The following day he again described the atomic bomb's "peculiar disease" and reported that the leading local X-ray specialist was convinced that "these people are simply suffering" from the bomb's unknown radiation effects.

Anthony Weller, a novelist, told me that it was one of great disappointments of his father's life that these stories, "a real coup," were killed by MacArthur who, George Weller felt, "wanted all the credit for winning the war, not some scientists back in New Mexico."

Others have suggested that the real reason for the censorship was the United States did not want the world to learn about the morally troubling radiation effects for two reasons: It aimed to avoid questions raised about the use of the weapon in 1945, or its wide scale development in the coming years. In fact, an official "coverup" of much of this information--involving print accounts, photographs and film footage--continued for years, even, in some cases, decades.

"Clearly," Anthony Weller told me of his father's reports, "they would have supplied an eyewitness account at a moment when the American people badly needed one."

The Scoop That Wasn't


How did George Weller get the scoop-that-wasn't?

After years of covering the Pacific war, Weller (left) arrived in Japan with the first wave of reporters and military in early September. He had already won a Pulitzer for his reporting in 1943. Appalled by MacArthur's censors, and "the conformists" in his profession who went along with strict press restrictions, he made his way, with permission, to the distant island of Kyushu to visit a former kamikaze base. But he noted that it was connected by railroad to Nagasaki. Pretending he was "a major or colonel," as his son put it, he slipped into the city (perhaps by boat) about three days before any of his colleagues, and just after Wilfred Burchett had filed his first report from Hiroshima.

Once arrived, Weller toured the city, the aid stations, the former POW camps (by some counts, more American POWs died from the A-bomb in Nagasaki than Japanese military personnel) and wrote numerous stories within days. According to his son, he managed to send the articles to Tokyo, not by wire, but by hand, and felt "that the sheer volume and importance of the stories would mean they would be respected" by MacArthur and his censors.

Although Weller did not express any outward disapproval of the use of the bomb, these stories -- and others he filed in the following two weeks from the vicinity -- would never see the light of the day, and the reporter lost track of his carbons. He would later summarize the experience with the censorship office in two words: "They won."

In the years that followed, Weller continued his journalism career, winning a George Polk award and other honors and covering many other conflicts. Neither the carbons nor the originals ever surfaced, before he passed away in 2002 at the age of 95. It was then that his son made a full search of the wildly disorganized "archives" at his father's home in Italy, and in 2003 found the carbons just 30 feet from his dad's desk.

And what a find: roughly 75 pages of stories, on fading brownish paper, that covered not only his first atomic dispatches but gripping accounts by prisoners of war, some of whom described watching the bomb go off on that fateful morning.

A 'Peculiar Weapon'


In the first article published by the Japanese paper, the first words from Weller were: "The atomic bomb may be classified as a weapon capable of being used indiscriminately, but its use in Nagasaki was selective and proper and as merciful as such a gigantic force could be expected to be." Weller described himself as "the first visitor to inspect the ruins."

He suggested about 24,000 may have died but he attributed the high numbers to "inadequate" air raid shelters and the "total failure" of the air warning system. He declared that the bomb was "a tremendous, but not a peculiar weapon," and said he spent hours in the ruins without apparent ill effects. He did note, with some regret, that a hospital and an American mission college were destroyed, but pointed out that to spare them would have also meant sparing munitions plants.

In his second story that day, however, following his hospital visits, he would describe "Disease X," and victims, who have "neither a burn or a broken limb," wasting away with "blackish" mouths and red spots, and small children who "have lost some hair."

A third piece, sent to MacArthur the following day, reported the disease "still snatching away lives here. Men, women and children with no outward marks of injury are dying daily in hospitals, some after having walked around three or four weeks thinking they have escaped.

"The doctors ... candidly confessed ... that the answer to the malady is beyond them." At one hospital, 200 of 343 admitted had died: "They are dead -- dead of atomic bomb -- and nobody knows why."
He closed this account with: "Twenty-five Americans are due to arrive Sept. 11 to study the Nagasaki bomb site. Japanese hope they will bring a solution for Disease X." To this day, that solution for the disease--and the threat of nuclear weapons--has still not arrived.

More on suppression of evidence from Hiroshima and Nagasaki in my books The Beginning or the End:  How Hollywood--and America--Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb and Atomic Cover-up.


Saturday, August 7, 2021

Hiroshima: The Day After

 


Another post related to my new film, Atomic Cover-up, and new book, The Beginning or the End:  How Hollywood--and America--Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.

 President Truman's announcement to the nation--in which he carefully IDed Hiroshima only as a "military base," not a large city--broke the news of both the invention of an atomic bomb and its first use in war.  By that evening, radio commentators were weighing in with observations that often transcended Truman's announcement, suggesting that the public imagination was outrunning the official story. Contrasting emotions of gratification and anxiety had already emerged. H.V. Kaltenhorn warned, "We must assume that with the passage of only a little time, an improved form of the new weapon we use today can be turned against us."

It wasn't until the following morning, Aug. 7, that the government's press offensive appeared, with the first detailed account of the making of the atomic bomb, and the Hiroshima mission. Nearly every U.S. newspaper carried all or parts of 14 separate press releases distributed by the Pentagon several hours after the president's announcement. They carried headlines such as: "Atom Bombs Made in 3 Hidden Cities" and "New Age Ushered."

Many of them written by one man: W.L. Laurence, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for the New York Times, "embedded" with the atomic project. General Leslie Groves, military director of the Manhattan Project, would later reflect, with satisfaction, that "most newspapers published our releases in their entirety. This is one of the few times since government releases have become so common that this has been done."

The Truman announcement of the atomic bombing on Aug. 6, 1945, and the flood of material from the War Department, firmly established the nuclear narrative. It would not take long, however, for breaks in the official story to appear.

At first, journalists had to follow where the Pentagon led. Wartime censorship remained in effect, and there was no way any reporter could reach Hiroshima for a look around. One of the few early stories that did not come directly from the military was a wire service report filed by a journalist traveling with the president on the Atlantic, returning from Europe. Approved by military censors, it went beyond, but not far beyond, the measured tone of the president's official statement. It depicted Truman, his voice "tense with excitement," personally informing his shipmates about the atomic attack. "The experiment," he announced, "has been an overwhelming success."

The sailors were said to be "uproarious" over the news. "I guess I'll get home sooner now," was a typical response. Nowhere in the story, however, was there a strong sense of Truman's reaction. Missing from this account was his exultant remark when the news of the bombing first reached the ship: "This is the greatest thing in history!"

On Aug. 7, military officials confirmed that Hiroshima had been devastated: at least 60% of the city wiped off the map. They offered no casualty estimates, emphasizing instead that the obliterated area housed major industrial targets. The Air Force provided the newspapers with an aerial photograph of Hiroshima. Significant targets were identified by name. For anyone paying close attention there was something troubling about this picture. Of the 30 targets, only four were specifically military in nature. "Industrial" sites consisted of three textile mills. (Indeed, a U.S. survey of the damage, not released to the press, found that residential areas bore the brunt of the bomb, with less than 10% of the city's manufacturing, transportation, and storage facilities damaged.)

On Guam, weaponeer William S. Parsons and Enola Gay pilot Paul Tibbets calmly answered reporters' questions, limiting their remarks to what they had observed after the bomb exploded. Asked how he felt about the people down below at the time of detonation, Parsons said that he experienced only relief that the bomb had worked and might be "worth so much in terms of shortening the war."

Almost without exception newspaper editorials endorsed the use of the bomb against Japan. Many of them sounded the theme of revenge first raised in the Truman announcement. Most of them emphasized that using the bomb was merely the logical culmination of war. "However much we deplore the necessity," the Washington Post observed, "a struggle to the death commits all combatants to inflicting a maximum amount of destruction on the enemy within the shortest span of time." The Post added that it was "unreservedly glad that science put this new weapon at our disposal before the
end of the war."

Referring to American leaders, the Chicago Tribune commented: "Being merciless, they were merciful." A drawing in the same newspaper pictured a dove of peace flying over Japan, an atomic bomb in its beak.

Friday, August 6, 2021

Inside a Mound in Hiroshima




In the northwestern corner of the Hiroshima Peace Park, amid a quiet grove of trees, the earth suddenly swells. It is not much of a mound -- only about ten feet high and sixty feet across. Unlike most mounds, however, this one is hollow, and within it rests perhaps the greatest concentration of human residue in the world.rey clouds rising from sticks of incense hang in the air, spookily. Tourists do not dawdle here. Visitors searching for the Peace Bell, directly ahead, or the Children's Monument, down the path to the right, hurry past it without so much as a sideways glance. Still, it has a strange beauty: a lump of earth (not quite lush) topped by a small monument that resembles the tip of a pagoda.

On one side of the Memorial Mound the gray wooden fence has a gate, and down five steps from the gate is a door. Visitors are usually not allowed through that door, but occasionally the city of Hiroshima honors a request from a foreign journalist.

Inside the mound the ceiling is low, the light fluorescent. One has to stoop to stand. To the right and left, pine shelving lines the walls. Stacked neatly on the shelves, like cans of soup in a supermarket, are white porcelain canisters with Japanese lettering on the front. On the day I visited, there were more than a thousand cans in all, explained Masami Ohara, a city official. Each canister contained the ashes of one person killed by the atomic bomb.

Behind twin curtains on either side of an altar, several dozen pine boxes, the size of caskets, were stacked, unceremoniously, from floor to ceiling. They hold the ashes of about 70,000 unidentified victims of the bomb. If, in an instant, all of the residents of Wilmington, Delaware, or Santa Fe, New Mexico, were reduced to ashes, and those ashes carried away to one repository, this is all the room the remains would require.

More than 100,000 in Hiroshima were killed by The Bomb, the vast majority of them women and children, plus elderly males.  Fewer than one in ten were in the military. 

Most of those who died in Hiroshima were cremated quickly, partly to prevent an epidemic of disease. Others were efficiently turned to ash by the atomic bomb itself, death and cremation occurring in the same instant. Those reduced by human hands were cremated on makeshift altars at a temple that once stood at the present site of the mound, one-half mile from the hypocenter of the atomic blast.

In 1946, an Army Air Force squad, ordered by Gen. Douglas MacArthur to film the results of the massive U.S. aerial bombardment of Japanese cities during World War II, shot a solemn ceremony at the temple, capturing a young woman receiving a canister of ashes from a local official. That footage, and all of the rest that they filmed in Hiroshima and Nagasaki revealing the full aftermath of the bombings, would be suppressed by the United States for decades (as I probe in my book Atomic Cover-Up).

Later that year, survivors of the atomic bombing began contributing funds to build a permanent vault at this site and, in 1955, the Memorial Mound was completed. For several years the collection of ashes grew because remains of victims were still being found. One especially poignant pile was discovered at an elementary school.

The white cans (that's my photo) on the shelves have stood here for decades, unclaimed by family members or friends. In many cases, all of the victims' relatives and friends were killed by the bomb. Every year local newspapers publish the list of names written on the cans, and every year several canisters are finally claimed and transferred to family burial sites. Most of the unclaimed cans (a total of just over 800 in 2010, for example) will remain in the mound in perpetuity, now that so many years have passed.

They are a chilling sight. The cans are bright white, like the flash in the sky over Hiroshima at 8:15 a.m. on August 6, 1945. From all corners of the city the ashes were collected: the remains of soldiers, physicians, housewives, infants. Unclaimed, they at least have the dignity of a private urn, an identity, a life (if one were able to look into it) before death.

But what of the seventy thousand behind the curtains? The pine crates are marked with names of sites where the human dust and bits of bone were found -- a factory or a school, perhaps, or a neighborhood crematory. But beyond that, the ashes are anonymous. Thousands may still grieve for these victims but there is no dignity here. "They are all mixed together," said Ohara, "and will never be separated or identified." Under a mound, behind two curtains, inside a few pine boxes: This is what became of one-quarter of the city of Hiroshima on August 6, 1945.

My new book is  THE BEGINNING OR THE END: How Hollywood--and America--Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb,

Thursday, August 5, 2021

Why Hiroshima Matters Today


Seventy-six years after the atomic attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the bomb is still very much with us and controversy continues to swirl over the decision to obliterate the two Japanese cities.  My new book, The Beginning or the End: How Hollywood--and America--Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, certainly puts this center stage.

Hiroshima, in any case, remains a vital lesson for us all, not only for the first use of a nuclear weapon there, but because of the “first use” nuclear policy the U.S. maintains today. 

Even the fact that the U.S. still has a first-strike policy (meaning we will use nukes first in a crisis if need be) will surprise many, especially with the end of the Cold War now a distant memory for some.

It’s a subject practically off-limits in the media and in American policy circles. Even the  antinuclear documentary Countdown to Zero, which outlined many serious nuclear dangers (from an accidental launch to a terror attack on America), failed to even mention the possibility that the U.S. might choose to use nuclear weapons again. Resisting a no-first-use pledge, in fact, has been a cornerstone of U.S. nuclear policy for decades.

Following a few positive signs from Obama, I fear that moving very far in the direction of no-first-use is still a long way off in Trump's America.

Perhaps the strongest reason is this: most Americans, our media and our leaders (including every president), have endorsed our “first-use” of the bomb against Japan. This remains true today, despite new evidence and analysis that has emerged for so many years. I’ve been probing this for over thirty years — in hundreds of articles, a new film, in three books — with little shift in the polls or change in heart among our policymakers and elected officials.

There has also been little change abroad — where the use of the bomb in 1945 has been roundly condemned from the beginning. Indeed, U.S. support, even pride, in our use of the weapon has given us little moral standing in arguing that other countries should not develop nuclear weapons and consider using them, possibly as a first, not a last, resort (that’s our policy, remember).

So it all goes back to Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

While I respect the views of a range of historians on this matter, and the opinions of the men who fought in the Pacific, I happen to believe the bombs should not have been used against Japan — directly over the center of massive cities — at that time. The war would likely have ended very shortly without it (the bloody American invasion was not set until months later), largely because of the Soviets finally declaring war on Japan — an event long-dreaded by Japanese leaders.

Yes, there was a day when conservatives like John Foster Dulles, columnist David Lawrence, Admiral William Leahy and General Dwight D. Eisenhower — “We shouldn’t have hit them with that awful thing,” Ike declared — clearly condemned the use of the bombs. They knew that the argument of “saving tens of thousands of American lives” only counted if an invasion actually was necessary. We had demanded “unconditional surrender,” dropped the bombs — then accepted the main Japanese demand, keeping their emperor as figurehead.

But the key point for today is this: how the “Hiroshima narrative” has been handed down to generations of Americans — and overwhelmingly endorsed by officials and the media, even if many historians disagree — matters greatly.

Over and over, top policymakers and commentators say, “We must never use nuclear weapons,” yet they endorse the two times the weapons have been used against cities in a first strike. To make any exceptions, even in the past — and in certainly a horrid situation — means exceptions can be made in the future. Indeed, we have already made two exceptions, with more than 200,000 civilians killed. The line against using nuclear weapons has been drawn... in the sand.

To cite just one example: Before our attack on Iraqi forces in Kuwait in 1990, then-Pentagon chief Dick Cheney said on TV that we would consider using nuclear weapons against Iraq but would hold off “at this point” — then specifically cited President Truman’s use of the bomb as morally correct. Some polls at the time showed strong support from the American public for using nukes if our military so advised.

And other polls since then show the same thing concerning other nuclear scenarios. Recent ones show as many as half of U.S. citizens would support on first-strike on Iran or North Korea--even if it might kill a million of more.

And, as I’ve noted, the fact that the United States first developed, and then used — twice — the WMD to end all WMDs has severely compromised our arguments against others building the weapon ever since. Hiroshima was our original sin, and we are still paying for it, even if most Americans do not recognize this.

That is why I always urge everyone to study the history surrounding the decision to use the bomb and how the full story was covered up for decades. (You could do worse than try my new book,  The Beginning or the End: How Hollywood--and America--Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb,)  There is certainly, in the minds of the media and the American public, no taboo on using nuclear weapons, and it all started, but did not end, with Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This is what nuclear abolitionists — or even those who simply want a partial easing of our first-use policy — are up against.

Countdown to Hiroshima: X-Minus 1 Day

Each summer I count down the days to the atomic bombing of Japan (August 6 and August 9, 1945),  marking events from the same day in 1945.  I've been doing it here for more than two weeks now.    I've written  three books and ebooks on the subject including my latest, The Beginning or the End,   Hiroshima in America (with Robert Jay Lifton) and Atomic Cover-Up (on the decades-long suppression of shocking footageshot in the atomic cities by the U.S. military, also now an award-winning film that I have directed). My photo above taken on a later August 6, 1984.

August 5, 1945:

  —Hiroshima remains the primary target, with Kokura #2 and Nagasaki third. The aiming point was directly over the city, not the military base or industrial quarter, guaranteeing the deaths of tens of thousands of women and children.   The surrounding hills, it was known, would provide a "focusing effect" that would kill more.

—Pilot Paul Tibbets formally named the lead plane in the mission, #82, after his mother, Enola Gay. A B-29 that would take photos on the mission would be named, wait for it,  Necessary Evil.

—Also on Tinian, Little Boy is ready to go, awaiting word on weather, with General Curtis LeMay to make the call. At 3:30 p.m., in an air-conditioned bomb assembly hut, the five-ton bomb as loaded (gently) on to a trailer. Crew members scribbled words onto the bomb in crayon, including off-color greetings for the Japanese. Pulled by a tractor, accompanied by a convoy of jeeps and other vehicles, the new weapon arrives at the North Field and is lowered into the bomb pit.

--The bomb is still not armed. The man who would do, before takeoff, according to plan, was Parsons. But he had other ideas, fearing that the extra-heavy B-29 might crash on takeoff and taking with it “half the island.” He asked if he could arm the bomb in flight, and spent a few hours—on a hot and muggy August day—practicing before getting the okay.

—Pilot Tibbets tries to nap, without much success. Then, in the assembly hall just before midnight, he tells the crew, that the new bomb was “very powerful” but he did not mention the words “nuclear,” “atomic’ or “radiation.” He calls forward a Protestant chaplain who delivers a prayer he’d written for this occasion on the back of an envelope. It asks God to “to be with those who brave the heights of Thy heaven and who carry the battle to our enemies.”

— The Soviets are two days from declaring war on Japan and marching across Manchuria. Recall that Truman had just written in diary "Fini Japs" when the Soviets would declare war, even without the Bomb.  (See new evidence that it was the Soviet declaration of war, more than the atomic bombing, that was the decisive factor in Japan's surrender.)

 —Halfway around the world from Tinian, on board the ship Augusta steaming home for the USA after the Potsdam meeting, President Truman relaxes.  His announcement on the bombing--calling the large city merely a "military base"--has already been written.  Truman’s order to use the bomb had simply stated that it could be used any time after August 1 so he had nothing to do but watch and wait. The order included the directive to use a second bomb, as well, without a built-in pause to gauge the results of the first and the Japanese response—even though the Japanese were expected, by Truman and others, to push surrender feelers, even without the bomb, with Russia’s entry into the war on August 7.

Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Countdown to Hiroshima: X-Minus 2 Days

Every year at this time, I trace the final days leading up to the first use of the atomic bomb against Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This is a subject that I have studied and written about in hundreds of articles and three books (including the new one, The Beginning or the End: How Hollywood--and America--Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb).  For earlier days scroll down main page for this blog.

August 4, 1945:

—On Tinian, Little Boy is ready to go, awaiting word on weather, with General LeMay to make the call. With the weather clearing near Hiroshima, still the primary target, taking off the night of August 5 appears the most likely scenario. Secretary of War Stimson writes of a “troubled” day due to the uncertain weather, adding: “The S-1 operation was postponed from Friday night [August 3] until Saturday night and then again Saturday night until Sunday.”

—Hiroshima remains the primary target--the very center of the highly-populated city--with Kokura #2 and Nagasaki third.

--Gen. Douglas MacArthur,  who directed the U.S. war in the Pacific, and would soon become the head of our occupation of Japan, had still not been told of the existence and planned use of the new bomb.  Norman Cousins, the famed author and magazine editor, who was an aide to MacArthur, would later reveal:  "MacArthur's views about the decision to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were starkly different from what the general public supposed....When I asked General MacArthur about the decision to drop the bomb, I was surprised to learn he had not even been consulted. What, I asked, would his advice have been? He replied that he saw no military justification for the dropping of the bomb. The war might have ended weeks earlier, he said, if the United States had agreed, as it later did anyway, to the retention of the institution of the emperor."  As we noted earlier, both General Eisenhower and Truman's top aide, Admiral Leahy, both protested the use of the bomb against Japan in advance.

—Paul Tibbets, pilot of the lead plane, the Enola Gay, finally briefs others in the 509th Composite Group who will take part in the mission at 3 pm. Military police seal the building. Tibbets reveals that they will drop immensely powerful bombs, but the nature of the weapons are not revealed, only that it is “something new in the history of warfare.” When weaponeer Deke Parsons says, “We think it will knock out almost everything within a three-mile radius,” the audience gasps.

Then he tries to show a film clip of the recent Trinity test—but the projector starts shredding the film. Parsons adds, “No one knows exactly what will happen when the bomb is dropped from the air,” and he distributes welder’s glasses for the men to wear. But he does not relate any warnings about radioactivity or order them not to fly through the mushroom cloud.

 —On board the ship Augusta steaming home for the USA after the Potsdam meeting, President Truman relaxes and plays poker with one of the bomb drop’s biggest booster, Secretary of State Jimmy Byrnes. Truman’s order to use the bomb had simply stated that it could be used any time after August 1 so he had nothing to do but watch and wait. The order included the directive to use a second bomb, as well, without a built-in pause to gauge the results of the first and the Japanese response—even though the Japanese were expected, by Truman and others, to push surrender feelers, even without the bomb, with Russia’s entry into the war on August 7.  Hence: assembly-line massacre in Nagasaki.

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Countdown to Hiroshima: X-Minus 3 Days

Every year at this time, I trace the final days leading up to the first (and so far only) use of the atomic bomb against Hiroshima and Nagasaki  in August 1945. This is a subject that I have studied and written about in hundreds of articles and three books (including the new one, The Beginning or the End: How Hollywood--and America--Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb).  For earlier days scroll down main page for this blog.

August 3, 1945

--On Tinian, Little Boy is ready to go, awaiting word on weather, with General LeMay to make the call. Taking off the night of August 5 appears most likely scenario.

--On board the ship Augusta steaming home for USA after Potsdam meeting, President Truman, Joint Chiefs chairman Admiral Leahy, and Secretary of State James F. Byrnes--a strong A-bomb booster--enjoy some poker.   Byrnes aide Walter Brown notes in his diary that "President, Leahy, JFB [Byrnes) agreed Japan looking for peace. (Leahy had another report from Pacific.) President afraid they will sue for peace through Russia instead of some country like Sweden."

--Leahy had questioned the decision to use the bomb, later writing: "[T]he use of this barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan. The Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender.... [I]n being the first to use it, we...adopted an ethical standard common to the barbarians of the Dark Ages. I was not taught to make war in that fashion, and wars cannot be won by destroying women and children."

 --Our "Magic" intercepts show Japan monitoring the Soviets' military buildup in the Far East (prelude to the declaration of war in four days).  Also, Japanese still searching for way to approach Molotov to pursue possible surrender terms before that happens. Another Magic intercept carried the heading, "Japanese Army's interest in peace negotiations." War Department intel analysts revealed "the first statement to appear in the traffic that the Japanese Army is interested in the effort to end the war with Soviet assistance." A segment of Prime Minister Togo's message declared: "The Premier and the leaders of the Army are now concentrating all their attention on this one point."

--John McCloy, then assistant secretary of war and a well-known "hawk" in his later career, would later reflect, "I have always felt that if, in our ultimatum to the Japanese government issued from Potsdam [in July 1945], we had referred to the retention of the emperor as a constitutional monarch and had made some reference to the reasonable accessibility of raw materials to the future Japanese government, it would have been accepted. Indeed, I believe that even in the form it was delivered, there was some disposition on the part of the Japanese to give it favorable consideration. When the war was over I arrived at this conclusion after talking with a number of Japanese officials who had been closely associated with the decision of the then Japanese government, to reject the ultimatum, as it was presented. I believe we missed the opportunity of effecting a Japanese surrender, completely satisfactory to us, without the necessity of dropping the bombs."

 --Soviet General Vasilevskii reports to Stalin that Soviet forces ready for invasion from August 7 on.

Monday, August 2, 2021

Countdown to Hiroshima: X-Minus 4 Days

Every year at this time, I trace the final days leading up to the first (and so far only) use of the atomic bomb against Hiroshima and Nagasaki  in August 1945. This is a subject that I have studied and written about in hundreds of articles and three books (including the new one, The Beginning or the End: How Hollywood--and America--Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb).  For earlier days scroll down main page for this blog.

August 2, 1945

—Early today, Paul Tibbets, pilot of the lead plane, the Enola Gay (named after his mom) on the first mission, reported to Gen. Curtis LeMay’s Air Force headquartters on Guam. LeMay told him the “primary” was still Hiroshima. Bombardier Thomas Ferebee pointed on a map what the aiming point for the bomb would be—a distinctive T-shaped bride in the center of the city, not the local army base. “It’s the most perfect aiming I’ve seen in the whole damned war,” Tibbets said. But the main idea was to set the bomb off over the center of the city, which rests in kind of a bowl, so that the surrounding hills would supply a “focusing effect” that would lead to added destruction and loss of life in city mainly filled by women and children.

—By 3 p.m., top secret orders were being circulated for Special Bombing Mission #13, now set for August 6, when the weather would clear. The first alternate to Hiroshima was Kokura. The second, Nagasaki. The order called for only “visual bombing,” not radar, so the weather had to be okay. Six planes would take part. Two would escort the Enola Gay, one would take photos, the other would be a kind of mobile lab, dropping canisters to send back scientific information.

—Meanwhile, three B-29s arrived at Tinian carrying from Los Alamos the bomb assemblies for the second Fat Man device (which would use plutonium, the substance of choice for the future, unlike the uranium bomb meant for Hiroshima). 

 —Japanese cables and other message intercepted by the United States showed that they were still trying to enlist the Soviets' help in presenting surrender terms--they would even send an envoy--but were undecided on just what to propose. The Russians, meanwhile, were just five days from declaring war on Japan.

--Top U.S. officials were on now centering on allowing the Japanese to keep their emperor when they give up.  In his diary Secretary of War Stimson endorses a key report which concludes: "The retention of the Emperor will probably insure the immediate surrender of all Japanese Forces outside the home islands."  Would offering that win a swift Japanese surrender--without the need to use the bomb?  Not considered.

—Six years ago earlier on this day, August 2, 1939, Albert Einstein sent a letter to President Roosevelt stating the Germans were trying to enrich uranium 235—and that this process would allow them to build an atomic bomb. This helped spark FDR’s decision to create the Manhattan Project. 

Sunday, August 1, 2021

Countdown to Hiroshima, X-Minus 5 Days



Every year at this time I trace the final days leading to the first use of the atomic bomb against two cities, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, in August 1945.   In this way the fateful, and in my view, tragic decisions made by President Truman, his advisers, and others, can be judged more clearly in "real time."  As some know, this is a subject that I have explored in hundreds of articles, thousands of posts,  and in three books, since 1984:  Hiroshima in America (with Robert Jay Lifton), Atomic Cover-up and last year's Hollywood epic, The Beginning or the End.   Now I've directed an award-winning documentary

On this date:

—Truman wrote a letter to his wife Bess last night talking about the atomic bomb (but without revealing it): “He [Stalin] doesn’t know it but I have an ace in the hole and another one showing—so unless he has threes or two pair (and I know he has not) we are sitting all right.”

And today he gives a letter to Stalin, which confounds the Soviet leader. Earlier, Stalin had promised to declare war on Japan around August 10. Now Truman writes that more consultation is needed. Truman had earlier pushed for the quick entry, writing in his diary "fini Japs" when that occurred, even without use of The Bomb. Now that he has the bomb in his "pocket" he apparently hopes to stall the Soviets.

 --Truman has also approved statement on the use of the bomb, brought to him last night in Germany by a courier, drafted by Secretary of War Stimson and others, and ordered it released after the bomb drop. A line near the start has been added explicitly depicting the vast city of Hiroshima (occupied mainly by women and children) as nothing but a “military base.” The president, and the drafters of the statement, knew was false. An earlier draft described the city of Nagasaki as a “naval base” and nothing more. There would be no reference to radiation effects whatsoever in the statement—it was just a vastly bigger bomb.

—The Potsdam conference ended early this morning, with Truman expected to head back to the US by sea tomorrow.

—The “Little Boy” atomic bomb is now ready for use on the island of Tinian. Under the direction of the lead pilot, Paul Tibbetts, practice runs have been completed, near Iwo Jima, and fake payloads dropped, with success. Truman’s order had given the okay for the first mission later this day and it might have happened if a typhoon was not approaching Japan.

—Stimson writes in his diary about decision today to release to the press, with Truman’s coming statement after  the use of the bomb, a 200-page report on the building of the bomb, revised to not give too much away. Here he explains why they will release it at all: “The aim of the paper is to backfire reckless statements by independent scientists after the demonstration of the bomb. If we could be sure that these could be controlled and avoided, all of us would much prefer not to issue such a paper. But under the circumstances of the entire independence of action of scientists and the certainty that there would be a tremendous amount of excitement and reckless statement, [Gen. Leslie] Groves, who is a very conservative man, had reached the conclusion that the lesser evil would be for us to make a statement carefully prepared so as not to give away anything vital and thus try to take the stage away from the others.”

Saturday, July 31, 2021

Countdown to Hiroshima: X-Minus 6 Days

Every year at this time, I trace the final days leading up to the first (and so far only) use of the atomic bomb against Hiroshima and Nagasaki  in August 1945. This is a subject that I have studied and written about in hundreds of articles and three books (including the new one, The Beginning or the End: How Hollywood--and America--Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb) and now this year in an award-winning film, Atomic Cover-up.  For earlier days scroll down main page for this blog.

July 31, 1945:

--In Germany, Admiral William D. Leahy, chief of staff to Truman--and the highest-ranking U.S. military officer during the war--continues to privately express doubts about the bomb, that it may not work and is not needed,  in any case. (Gen. Eisenhower had just come out against using the Bomb.)  Leahy would later write in his memoirs: 

"It is my opinion that the use of this barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan. The Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender because of the effective sea blockade and the successful bombing with conventional weapons.

"The lethal possibilities of atomic warfare in the future are frightening. My own feeling was that in being the first to use it, we had adopted an ethical standard common to the barbarians of the Dark Ages. I was not taught to make war in that fashion, and wars cannot be won by destroying women and children."

--The assembly of Little Boy is completed. It is ready for use the next day.  But a  typhoon approaching Japan will likely prevent launching an attack. Several days might be  required for weather to clear.

--Secretary of War Stimson sends semi-final draft of statement for Truman to read when first bomb used and he has to explain its use, and the entire bomb project, to the U.S. and the world, with this cover note: "Attached are two copies of the revised statement which has been prepared for release by you as soon as the new weapon is used. This is the statement about which I cabled you last night.  The reason for the haste is that I was informed only yesterday that, weather permitting, it is likely that the weapon will be used as early as August 1st, Pacific Ocean Time, which as you know is a good many hours ahead of Washington time."  The statement would later be amended to include the name of the first city destroyed and add that it was not a city but a "military base."
It is an atomic bomb. It is a harnessing of the basic power of the universe. The force from which the sun draws its power has been loosed against those who brought war to the Far East.

Friday, July 30, 2021

Countdown to Hiroshima: X-Minus 7 Days

Every year at this time, I trace the final days leading up to the first (and so far only) use of the atomic bomb against Hiroshima and Nagasaki  in August 1945. This is a subject that I have studied and written about in hundreds of articles and three books (including the new one, The Beginning or the End: How Hollywood--and America--Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb).  For earlier days scroll down main page for this blog.

July 30, 1945

Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, commander of U.S. troops in Europe, has visited President Truman in Germany, and would recall what happened in his memoir (Mandate for Change): "Secretary of War Stimson, visiting my headquarters in Germany, informed me that our government was preparing to drop an atomic bomb on Japan. I was one of those who felt that there were a number of cogent reasons to question the wisdom of such an act...

"During his recitation of the relevant facts, I had been conscious of a feeling of depression and so I voiced to him my grave misgivings, first on the basis of my belief that Japan was already defeated and that dropping the bomb was completely unnecessary, and secondly because I thought that our country should avoid shocking world opinion by the use of a weapon whose employment was, I thought, no longer mandatory as a measure to save American lives. It was my belief that Japan was, at that very moment, seeking some way to surrender with a minimum loss of 'face'. The Secretary was deeply perturbed by my attitude..."

In a Newsweek interview, Ike would add: "...the Japanese were ready to surrender and it wasn't necessary to hit them with that awful thing."

-- Stimson, now back at the Pentagon, cabled Truman, that he had drafted a statement for the president that would follow the first use of the new weapon--and Truman must urgently review it because the bomb could be used as early as August 1. Stimson sent one of his aides to Germany with two copies of the statement. The top secret, six-page typed statement opened: "____ hours ago an American airplane dropped one bomb on ______ and destroyed its usefulness to the enemy. That bomb has more power than 20,000 tons of TNT.... It is an atomic bomb. It is a harnessing of the basic power of the universe." Later, as we will see, the claim that Hiroshima was merely "a military base" was added to the draft.

--After scientists sifted more data from the July 16 Trinity test of the first weapon, Gen. Leslie R. Groves, military head of the Manhattan Project provided Gen. George Marshall, our top commander, with more detail on the destructive power of atomic weapons. Amazingly, despite the new evidence, Groves recommended that troops could move into the "immediate explosion area" within a half hour (and, indeed, in future bomb tests soldiers would march under the mushroom clouds and receive harmful doses of radiation). Groves also provided the schedule for the delivery of the weapons: By the end of November more than ten weapons would be available, in the event the war had continued.

--Groves faced a new problem, however. Gen. "Tooey" Spaatz on Guam urgently cabled that sources suggested that there was an Allied prisoner of war camp in Nagasaki just a mile north of the center of the city. Should it remain on the target list?" Groves, who had already dropped Kyoto from the list after Stimson had protested, refused to shift. In another cable Spaatz revealed that there were no POW camps in Hiroshima, or so they believed. This firmed up Groves's position that Hiroshima should "be given top priority," weather permitting. As it turned out, POWs died in both cities from the bombing.

Thursday, July 29, 2021

Countdown to Hiroshima: X-Minus 8 Days


Every year at this time I trace the final days leading to the first use of the atomic bomb against two cities, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, in August 1945.   In this way the fateful, and in my view, tragic decisions made by President Truman, his advisers, and others, can be judged more clearly in "real time."  As some know, this is a subject that I have explored in hundreds of articles, thousands of posts,  and in three books, since 1984:  Hiroshima in America (with Robert Jay Lifton), Atomic Cover-up and last year's Hollywood epic, The Beginning or the End.   Now I've directed an award-winning documentary

On July 29, 1945: 

—Truman wrote letter to wife Bess from Potsdam on dealings there (but does not mention A-bomb discussions with Soviets): “I like Stalin. He is straightforward, knows what he wants and will compromise when he can’t get it. His Foreign Minister isn’t so forthright.“ Truman casually informed Stalin about the atomic bomb but no one is quite certain that the latter understood.

—Japanese sub sinks the U.S.S. Indianapolis, killing over 800 American seamen. If it had happened three days earlier, the atomic bomb the ship was carrying to Tinian would have never made it.

—A Newsweek story observes: “As Allied air and sea attacks hammered the stricken homeland, Japan’s leaders assessed the war situation and found it bordering on the disastrous…. As usual, the nation’s propaganda media spewed out brave double-talk of hope and defiance.” But it adds: “Behind the curtain, Japan had put forward at least one definite offer. Fearing the results of Russian participation in the war, Tokyo transmitted to Generalissimo Stalin the broad terms on which it professed willingness to settle all scores.”

—Assembling of the first atomic bomb continued at Tinian. It would likely be ready on August 1 and the first use would be dictated by the weather.  The second bomb—the plutonium device—was still back in the States. The target list, with Hiroshima as #1, remained in place, although it was being studied for the presence of POW camps holding Americans in the target cities.

—Secretary of War Stimson began work on the statement on the first use of the bomb that President Truman would record or release in a few days, claiming we merely hit a "military base," assuming the bomb worked.

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Countdown to Hiroshima: X-Minus 9 Days

Every year at this time, I trace the final days leading up to the first (and so far only) use of the atomic bomb against cities, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, in August 1945.   In this way the fateful, and in my view, very tragic, decisions made by President Truman and his advisers can be judged more clearly in "real time."  As many know, this is a subject that I have studied and written about in hundreds of articles and three books (including the recent Atomic Cover-Up on the U.S. suppression of film for decades)  since the early 1980s with a special emphasis on the aftermath of the bombings, and the government and media reactions in the decades after.

July 28, 1945

--Two days after receiving it, the Japanese leadership  rejected the Potsdam declaration calling for their "unconditional" surrender, or seemed to. The official word was that it would ignore the demand mokusatsu, or "with silence." Another translation, however, is "to withhold comment." This not-quite-rejection has led some historians to suggest that the U.S. should have pursued the confusing Japanese peace feelers already circulating, especially with suggestions that unconditional terms were the main, or perhaps only, obstacles.

--Secretary of the Navy James V. Forrestal had breakfast with Truman at Potsdam.  He had flown there at least partly to press the president to pursue Japanese peace feelers--especially concerning letting them keep their emperor--before using the bomb and killing countless civilians.

 --Returning to Washington from Potsdam, Secretary of War Henry Stimson consulted with the top people at Los Alamos about the bomb (or "S-1" as it was then known) and wrote in his diary. "Everything seems to be going well."

 --U.S. Ambassador to Moscow Joseph Davies wrote in his diary that Secretary of State James Byrnes was overly excited by the success of the bomb test vis-a-vis future relations with our allies, the Soviets: "Byrnes' attitude that the atomic bomb assured ultimate success in negotiations disturbed me more than his description of its success amazed me. I told him the threat wouldn't work, and might do irreparable harm." Four days earlier, Byrnes aide Walter Brown had written in his diary that Byrnes' view was that "after atomic bomb Japan will surrender and Russia will not get in so much on the kill." The Soviets were scheduled to enter the war on August 7 (which likely would have prompted a Japanese surrender, even without use of the Bomb), so there was some urgency.

--A U.S. bombing raid on the small Japanese city of Aomori -- which had little military significance beyond being a transportation hub -- dropped 83,000 incendiaries and destroyed almost the entire city, killing at least 2,000 civilians.

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Countdown to Hiroshima: X-Minus 10 Days

Every year at this time, I trace the final days leading up to the first (and so far only) use of the atomic bomb against Hiroshima and Nagasaki  in August 1945. This is a subject that I have studied and written about in hundreds of articles and three books (including the new one, The Beginning or the End: How Hollywood--and America--Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb) since the early 1980s with a special emphasis on the aftermath of the bombings, and the government and media suppression in the decades after.  For earlier days scroll down main page for this blog.

July 27, 1945

Truman continued to meet with Allied leaders in Germany, as the Soviets got ready to declare war on Japan around August 8 ("fini Japs" when that happened, even without the bomb, Truman had written in his diary this week).

 "A Petition to the President of the United States" organized by famed nuclear scientist Leo Szilard, and signed by dozens of his Manhattan Project colleagues -- the only real pre-Hiroshima protests by insiders -- urgently urging delay or extreme caution on the use of the new weapon against Japan, continued to be held in limbo and kept from the President's eyes while Truman remained abroad.

Preparations at Tinian in the Pacific to get the first A-bomb ready for use, possibly within a week (weather permitting) were finalized, with the city of Hiroshima remaining as #1 target. It has been barely touched by Allied bombing so it would serve as the best site to judge the bomb's experimental effects.  Also it is nearly surrounded by hills, promising a "focusing effect" (as the target committee boasted) that will likely guarantee killing tens of thousands.  Kokura was target #2 and Nagasaki #3, with the bomb on an assembly line process with no need for  a separate order for the second and third bombs, which would doom, in the end, Nagasaki. 

The Japanese government today released an edited version of the "unconditional surrender" Potsdam declaration (which did not mention the atomic bomb) to their press and citizens, but had not yet rejected it. The Domei news agency had already predicted that the surrender demand "would be ignored." The U.S, after use of bomb, would later accept conditional surrender -- with Japan allowed to keep its emperor -- yet call it unconditional.

Eleven days after the first, and quite secret, atomic test at Trinity, which spread wide clouds of radioactive fallout over residents downwind -- livestock had been sickened or killed -- radiation experts had become concerned about the exposure for one family, the shape of things to come.